Nikaya in the Sutta Pitaka

January 7, 2016

1. The Tipitaka or the Pali Canon of Buddha Dhamma (Buddhsim) has three major sections or “baskets” called “pitaka” (Tipitaka is three pitaka): Sutta pitaka, Vinaya pitaka, and the Abhidhamma pitaka.

  • The Sutta pitaka is then subdivided into five sections called “nikāya“. The Wikipedia is wrong to say that nikāya means “volume” in Pali (and also what is meant by the five types of nikāya); see, Nikāya
  • Nikāya comes from “ni” + “kāya” where kāya means our volitions and actions initiated via the six sense inputs, like in “kāyānupassanā” where one is being mindful of how to respond to those sense inputs. Here, “ni” means to cease (nikmeema in Sinhala means to be freed) and thus nikāya means “path to Nibbāna”. At Nibbāna, one has stopped all kāya.

2. The suttā (note that plural of sutta is suttā) are categorized in those five nikāyas (Diga, Kuddhaka, Majjima, Samyutta, and Anguttara), based on the five types of people. All humans can be divided into five general types based on their sansaric habits and capabilities, which are also called “indriya types”: saddha, viriya, sati, samādhi, paññā. (Note that “indriya” here is different from the sense types such as cakkhu indriya, etc., as discussed in #6 and #7 below).

  • Diga Nikāya is mainly for those with predominant saddha indriya who need detailed explanations. These are long (diga, pronounced “dheega“, which means long in Pali and Sinhala). For example, the Maha Staippatana Sutta in the Diga Nikāya provides detailed instructions on how to be mindful and practice anapana.
  • Suttas in the Kuddhaka Nikāya (“ku” + “uddaka” where “ku” is keles or defilements and “udda” means to remove) are short and concise. They provide condensed instructions for those with high wisdom (panna indriya).
  • Majjima Nikāya has “middle length” suttā that provide instructions at a level in between those in the Diga Nikāya and the Kuddhaka Nikāya. It is more suitable for those with dominant viriya indriya. Note here that Majjima means “middle”, but Majjimā — as in Majjimā patipadāhas a deeper meaning of “abstaining from getting intoxicated”; see, “Majjima Patipada – Way to Relinquish Attachments to this World“.

3. The suttā in the Samyutta Nikāya are focused on explaining “san”, which is is key word in the foundation of Buddha Dhamma; see, “What is “San”? Meaning of Sansara (or Samsara)“.

  • Here Samyutta comes from “san” + “yutta” where yutta menas “consists of”. It natural to pronounce as “Samyutta” than “sanyutta“. This is true of many combined words with “san” (like samsāra, Sammā = “san” +”“)).
  • Suttā in the Samyutta Nikāya are said to be more suitable for those with dominant sati indriya.

4. Suttas in the Anguttara Nikāya are said to be more suitable for those with dominant samadhi indriya.

  • Anguttara comes “anga” + “uttara” where “anga” means parts or components and “uttara” means “predominant or principle”. Therefore, the suttā in the Anguttara Nikāya are focused on key principles and are also relatively short. These suttā are more suitable for people who can easily get to samadhi.
  • These categories help explain why diga and majjima nikāya suttā are the ones that are more in use today, because most people today fall into the categories of those with the saddha and viriya indriya dominant.

5. It is also important to point out a different usage of the term “nikāya“: Among the Theravāda nations of Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka, nikāya is also used as the term for a monastic division, which of course started after the Theravāda-Mahāyāna split.

  • For example, in Sri Lanka different temples belong to three types of nikāya: Siam, Ramanya, and Amarapura.
  • They are all Theravāda and there is no real difference among them as far as the doctrine is concerned. When one visits a temple, it is not possible to say to which nikāya it belongs.

6. To clarify the two contexts in which the word indriya is used: “Indriya” means “dominant”. In the case of sense inputs to the human body, there are six types dominant indriya: cakkhu, sōta, jivha, ghāna,kāya, and manō.

  • The five physical senses of eyes, ears, tongue, nose, and body are the only sense inputs that the modern science deals with.
  • Scientists believe our thoughts are randomly generated in the brain. That is not correct, and will be proven to be incorrect in the future.
  • Mana indriya — located in the brain — is the sixth and most important one according to Buddha Dhamma. That is where sense inputs from the “manō lōka” are received; see, “Our Two Worlds : Material and Mental” and “What are Dhamma? – A Deeper Analysis“.
  • Rupa are 11 types, but can be split into two main types (olarika or dense and sukuma or fine): those above (material world or “bhauthika lōka“) and below (mental world or “nāma lōka“) the suddhāshtaka level. Those rupa that are condensed above the suddhashtaka level are detected with the five physical senses and those below the suddhashtaka level are detected with the mana indriya; see, “Our Two Worlds : Material and Mental“.

7. The other use of indriya is with categorizing people by their dominant characteristics and capabilities (gathi). For some people, it is easy to grasp Dhamma concepts because they have cultivated the Path in their previous lives, and have higher wisdom (panna).

  • Some others have also cultivated the Path mainly via just following precepts, but have high confidence in Buddha Dhamma. They are said to have their saddha indriya dominant.
  • There are those who have the sati indriya dominant; they are able to focus on a given concept than others.
  • We all are familiar with some people who have the viriya indriya dominant; they are the “never give up” type, who seem to have inexhaustible energy levels.
  • Some others have meditated and possibly got into jhanas in previous lives and have the samadhi indriya dominant.

8. Finally, there is an excellent website that has the full and complete Sutta Pitaka with all Pali suttā: Sutta Central

  • That site also has the complete Vinaya and Abhdhamma Pitaka as well (in Pali).
  • It also has Sanskrit sutras, which are of course Mahāyāna.
  • The Chinese Agama suttā are also at this site (in Chinese). As I understand, they are very close to Theravāda suttā. They had been translated to Chinese from Theravāda before the Mahāyāna sutras were written. I would appreciate feedback from persons who are proficient in both Chinese and English, as to whether my understanding is correct.

Next, “Sutta Learning Sequence for the Present Day“,..

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